Have you ever had one of those car driving nightmares? The one where you’re confidently cruising down a packed freeway until suddenly your brakes go out AND your car suddenly begins picking up speed. You watch the speedometer needle hit 85, 90… ! You can’t stop it, can’t even slow it down. The best you can do is to grab that wheel with both hands and hope that you steer yourself through to safety.
Many of us have lived such a nightmare, not the car-driving version, but the cancer version. Cruising along in life, feeling mostly in control. The fortunate among us have seemingly endless choices, from university majors, to professions, to life partners, to child-raising, friends, holiday destinations, diet, and toothpaste brands, the choices are our’s to make and we feel in control. And then comes cancer. No one chooses it, it chooses us.
In an instant, our life is transformed from one that was a series of choices within our control, to one that is a series of choices that are completely out of our control. And though the cancer may be controlled, is hopefully defeated, that oh-so-comforting feeling of control is shattered and gone. Will we ever feel at peace again? Is it possible to be at peace and yet know to the depths of our souls that we actually have no control?
I often contemplate just how much more control we have over our health today then when my grandmother had her radical mastectomy in 1952. The doctor didn’t even wait until she awoke from her biopsy to give her the results or the right to agree to or decline surgery. She just woke up to find her breast, half her chest and rib cage gone. With that historical context, I’ve always felt so powerful, so in control. I’ve put the spotlight on my genes. I removed my breasts and ovaries before IT could choose me. Oh, my genes might have a say, but I’ll have the last word. I hope.
And therein lies the illusion. That because I know I am at risk, because I get to choose whether or not I remove body parts, and which parts go or stay, I am in control.
Once upon a time not so long ago and in too many places right now on planet Earth (think Somalia), very little about human life was in our control. We put seeds in the ground and then just watched the sky and hoped for rain. If it came, we harvested and ate. If it didn’t come, we went hungry. There could be no illusion of control. What was that like?
Sometimes, like when I have 3 different doctors giving 3 different recommendations about removing another one of my body parts in my determined effort not to be chosen by IT, I think how liberating it might be to let go of all illusions of control. But then, maybe that’s just another one of my illusions.